Prostate and Testicular Cancers

Current Projects
Ching-Ho Chang, PhD

Dr. Chang is studying protamines—short, positively-charged proteins that condense DNA into chromatin and regulate gene expression in sperm nuclei. While eukaryotic cells use histones to package genomes in a way that allows access for transcription and replication, sperm cells must package their genomes more tightly. For this, many animals deploy protamines instead of histones. Despite sharing certain functions with highly conserved histones, protamines have independently arisen in evolution multiple times and are continuing to rapidly evolution. Using Drosophila fruit fly species as a model, Dr. Chang studies how sperm chromatin regulates gene expression and reproductive fitness. Additionally, although protamine expression is typically limited to testes, their misexpression has been observed in many cancers, indicating an opportunity for therapeutic intervention.

Project title: "Genetic conflicts shape protamine evolution"
Institution: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Harmit S. Malik, PhD
Cancer Type: Prostate, All Cancers
Research Area: Genome Maintenance
Xin Gu, PhD

Regulation of gene transcription is a major mechanism cells use to modify the levels of certain proteins in response to their environment. A specific class of genes called immediate-early genes (IEGs) responds rapidly to external stimuli to adjust downstream gene transcription programs before any new proteins are synthesized. Abnormal expression of IEGs has been implicated in multiple types of cancers, as well as in neurological syndromes like addiction. Despite extensive study, the regulation of IEGs remains poorly understood. Dr. Gu’s work focuses on revealing the molecular mechanisms of IEG expression in cells and establishing model systems to study the physiological and disease-related outcomes caused by misregulation of this process. Dr. Gu received her PhD from MIT and her BSc from Peking University.

Project title: "Characterization of a novel pathway regulating the protein degradation of immediate-early genes"
Institution: Harvard Medical School
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Michael E. Greenberg, PhD
Cancer Type: Gastric, Prostate, Sarcoma, All Cancers
Research Area: Cell Biology
Manuel Osorio Valeriano, PhD

Human cells compact their vast genomes into the small confines of the nucleus by wrapping their DNA into a highly complex structure called chromatin. Packaging DNA into chromatin, however, affects all nucleic acid-transacting machines (e.g., transcription factors) that need to access the genomic information stored in the DNA. NuRD is a large multi-subunit protein complex that plays a major role in making chromatin either accessible or inaccessible. Dysregulation of NuRD and aberrant targeting of the complex can result in the emergence of several types of cancers, including breast, liver, lung, blood, and prostate cancers. Dr. Osorio Valeriano’s [Philip O'Bryan Montgomery, Jr., MD, Fellow] work will reveal mechanistic aspects of NuRD-mediated chromatin regulation and pave the way for the development of novel therapeutic approaches that target cancers more effectively. Dr. Osorio Valeriano received his PhD from Philipps University and his MSc and BSc from the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

Project title: "Molecular and structural basis of gene expression regulation by the nucleosome remodeling and deacetylase (NuRD) complex in human cancer"
Institution: Harvard Medical School
Named Award: Philip O’Bryan Montgomery Jr. MD Fellow
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Lucas Farnung, PhD, and Danesh Moazed, PhD
Cancer Type: Blood, Gastric, Breast, Lung, Prostate
Research Area: Structural Biology
Tristan Wold Owens, PhD

Dr. Owens [Suzanne and Bob Wright Fellow] focuses on heat shock proteins (HSPs) and their “master regulator” called heat shock transcription factor 1 (HSF1). The transformation and growth of cancers causes a wide array of cellular stresses including metabolic changes, genomic instability, and protein misfolding that would halt the growth of a normal cell. Tumor cells, however, depend on cellular stress response machinery, like HSPs, for their survival. HSF1 is critical to tumor development and progression, and HSF1 activity is strongly correlated with poor prognosis in many common cancers. For decades, efforts to develop cancer therapies targeting HSPs have failed. Dr. Owens aims to understand how HSPs and HSF1 interact to regulate activity, and how this regulation is co-opted to promote tumor growth and progression.

Project title: "Molecular mechanisms of heat shock transcription factor 1 in cancer"
Institution: University of California, San Francisco
Named Award: Suzanne and Bob Wright Fellow
Award Program: Fellow
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): David A. Agard, PhD
Cancer Type: Other Cancer, Breast, Prostate, All Cancers
Research Area: Biochemistry
Jonathan E. Shoag, MD

Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men in the United States. Remarkably, work over the past decade has demonstrated that even the worst prostate cancers are dependent on the same signaling pathways that govern normal prostate behavior. Dr. Shoag’s objective is to identify drugs that have activity against the normal prostate and can be used to understand and treat prostate cancer. Dr. Shoag will apply novel statistical and machine learning approaches on large scale clinical data to discover new therapies and pathways important in prostate cancer. He will then test these therapies in genetically engineered and patient-derived prostate cancer models. Identifying active drugs against prostate cancer that are already FDA-approved or have been previously studied in clinical trials for other cancers can aid in understanding prostate cancer biology and can rapidly benefit patients with advanced disease.

Project title: "Harnessing clinical data to identify new prostate cancer therapeutics"
Institution: University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center
Award Program: Physician-Scientist
Sponsor(s) / Mentor(s): Christopher E. Barbieri, MD, PhD
Cancer Type: Prostate
Research Area: Drug Discovery
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